A mighty start

ANGELINA JOLIE takes on one of her most challenging roles to date in a film about Mariane Pearl, wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic militants in 2002.

A Mighty Heart premiered in Cannes Monday, and is one of the most talked-about films at the festival this year, even though it was showcased outside the main competition.

The movie unites Jolie with her off-screen partner and onetime co-star Brad Pitt, who is a producer, and is directed by Britain's Michael Winterbottom.

It is based on Mariane's book A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Daniel Pearl, which recounts the events leading up to and following Daniel's death at the time his wife was about six months pregnant.

The film takes the viewer into the teeming streets of Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi, where Daniel was abducted, although scenes involving Jolie were shot in India.

It paints a picture of chaos and confusion as Mariane, Pakistani intelligence, U.S. consulate officials and Daniel's newspaper colleagues seek unsuccessfully to track him down via e-mail and mobile phone trails and old-fashioned police work.

They are up against not only a ruthless and professional group of abductors, but also prejudices in Pakistani society that led some to speculate that Daniel worked for U.S. or Israeli intelligence and that India was behind the kidnapping.

Jolie said she was nervous about getting the part of Mariane right, and that the film had a message beyond the gripping narrative and gut-wrenching finale.

"For me so much of why this film is important today was because I highly doubt there is anybody in this room who has more reason to hold hate inside herself than Mariane, and she doesn't," Jolie told a news conference.

"She is a very compassionate, thoughtful person who looks to dialogue to change things, to make things better. That is, I think, a lesson to all of us."

Experience of motherhood

Jolie, 31, said being a young mother helped her understand what Mariane had gone through.

"Many people know this story and they forget that Mariane was five and a half months pregnant at the time," Jolie said.

"I remember being six months pregnant and thinking, 'I can't imagine at this time not having the father with me'," she added, referring to Pitt, who was sitting close to her.

"As a mother it just made me so much more connected to her and also knowing that carrying that life inside, that little boy that's half Danny, that is so amazing."

The Pearls' child Adam was born after Daniel's death.

There was a moment of raw emotion in the press conference when reporter Chris Burns asked Mariane if she forgave him for asking her live on television shortly after Daniel's death whether she had seen the video of his murder.

Stony faced, she pointedly avoided the word "forgive," saying only: "I accept your apologies."

Early critical reaction to A Mighty Heart has been positive, with trade magazine Variety calling Jolie's performance "a subdued, carefully considered portrait of a woman caught between premature grief and persistent hope."

Jolie said A Mighty Heart did not signal a shift away from comic or action roles for which she is best known, and that she would try to combine serious and light cinema.

Jolie and Pitt, known collectively in Hollywood as Brangelina, appeared together on the red carpet at the official evening screening. She wore a knee-length black dress and he wore traditional tuxedo and bow tie.

Jolie the even-tempered centre of 'Mighty Heart'

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM'S expertly fashioned documentary-style drama A Mighty Heart relates the intense manhunt launched in Pakistan when jihadists kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. Angelina Jolie delivers a well-measured and moving performance as the reporter's wife, Mariane.

With the BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston now missing and believed kidnapped for 70 days and journalists in danger in hotspots worldwide, a film version of Mariane Pearl's book about the search for her husband could not be more timely.

Due for release in September across the world, the film delivers an even-handed approach to incendiary topics that should generate substantial interest.

Jolie's voice-over sets the scene as the movie begins in Karachi, a vast, sprawling city where Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) goes missing. He was on assignment to meet a man who could tell him more about Richard Reid, the captured shoe bomber. The events of Sept. 11 were not long past and Reid's situation was made difficult by the Wall Street Journal's decision to go public with the fact that it had turned over a suspicious computer to the CIA.

The film traces Pearl's movements on the night he was kidnapped, when he received several warnings to meet his contact only in public. His trail died when a taxi dropped him off at a restaurant.

When he fails to return to the place where he and his wife - who is pregnant with their first child - are staying, she calls the authorities. Senior people from the newspaper, including John Bussey (Denis O'Hare) and Steve Levine (Gary Wilmes), drop everything to help in the hunt, headquartered at the home of the Pearls' friend writer Asra (Archie Panjabi). U.S. diplomatic security specialist Randall Bennett (Will Patton) and representatives of assorted American agencies join the team that's led by the head of the Pakistani counterterrorism unit, who is known as Captain (Irrfan Khan).

The news breaks internationally, and various parties claim that Pearl is with the CIA or Mossad, which complicates things. One Pakistani government member dismisses it as a crime by India. Winterbottom shows the painstaking steps taken to link one mobile phone caller to the next and efforts to track down a single Internet provider that is used to send e-mails about the kidnapping. Marcel Zyskind's cinematography captures the frantic bustle of the overpopulated city as agents swarm into tenements to arrest suspects.

The film alarmingly implies that torture works when one suspect reveals names under duress. Watching the no-holds-barred approach of the Pakistani authorities on a raid, the American Bennett declares, "I love this town!"

For the most part, however, the film reflects the dispassionate view espoused by Mariane Pearl, who sees that it is misery that breeds terrorism. Jolie plays her with respect and a firm grasp on a difficult accent influenced by France and Cuba. She has a powerful scene in which she lets out a shriek of grief that will be recognised wherever people suffer from terror and loss.

You'd sure make a great Gatsby, Brad!

AS USUAL, her partner Brad Pitt was by her side at the Cannes Film Festival.

But Pitt's slicked-back hairstyle reminded movie fans of another great cinematic sex symbol - Robert Redford as he appeared in The Great Gatsby in 1974.

Redford, now 69, played self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby in F Scott Fitzgerald's story of 1920s decadence.

Miss Jolie, 31, and 43-year-old Pitt, along with their 'rainbow family' of children from around the world, are staying at the five-star Hotel Du Cap down the coast from Cannes.

On Sunday night they took over the hotel's Les Cedres villa to throw a £300-ahead dinner party for friends.

And if that seems extravagant, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Brad and Angelina will be among 200 guests paying up to £100,000 for a single ticket to the "party to end all parties" tonight.

George Clooney, Daniel Craig, Matt Damon and Al Pacino are also expected aboard the £80 million 'mega-yacht' RM Elegant, moored off the Cap d'Antibes.

The charity event, aimed at helping to end genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan, has been organised by Warner Brothers at an estimated cost of £2.5 million and coincides with the premiere of the heist movie Ocean's 13.

There will be a four-course banquet, including lobster, beef with truffles and a choice of five desserts.

As well as an outdoor jacuzzi filled with floating rose petals, a full casino, magicians, circus acts, a surround-sound music system and interactive games console 'play area', clay pigeon shooting from the upper decks is rumoured to be part of the fun.

Surprise performers, rumoured to include the American rapper Snoop Dogg, will entertain guests while Clooney, who sang in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?, is tipped to take to the stage.

Five hundred bottles of Krug and Cristal champagne have been shipped in at an estimated cost of £100,000.

It will be the biggest such event since the after-party for Matrix Reloaded four years ago - another Warner Brothers production.

Sadly, while the theme of the evening is undoubtedly glamour, all female guests have been warned that they will be required to remove their designer stilettos while the men will also pad around barefoot to avoid damaging the deck.

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